Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Great Day For A Rural Ride...

Finally, all the planets must have aligned up because I was actually able to get out and enjoy a nice, if short, ride today. We're the lucky recipients of some southerly winds while our neighbors up in Kentucky are still trying to dig out of the last ice storm. Today's temp reached an almost balmy 57 degrees with only light fluffy clouds in the sky. This was a great day to get outside.

My better half, Kathy, decided to walk while I rode so we started today's trip at the Lake Junaluska Assembly grounds. Lake Junaluska is the home of the World Methodist Church and has opened their grounds and the lake to local residents as part of the county's overall fitness and recreation activities. Many, many people were out enjoying today's break in winter weather before our next cold system gets here late tomorrow.

My ride started on the assembly grounds and included a short warm up as I rode around the lake to the junction of NC 209, which is a nice wide 2 lane road running into Tennessee. The portion of the road that I was on has recently been resurfaced and has some nice wide shoulders for cyclists. This is a popular road for that reason. Heading north is mostly flat and includes crossing over I-40 and the Pigeon River as it winds its way down the gorge into eastern Tennessee.

The area around NC 209 is still primarily agricultural although development is making its way in this direction as evidenced by all of the local residences dotting the surrounding mountains. You can still enjoy seeing corn fields and the G.C. Palmer dairy as you ride this stretch. After crossing the Pigeon you come to a short climb of about 6% grade that leads up to the Crabtree Methodist Church. After topping the hill, you have a very nice descent past the old Crabtree school and past the Upper Crabtree turnoff. A slight grade comes up next with some gentle rollers until you get to the more serious grade heading to the top of Rush Fork Gap. My trip today didn't include that distance so I turned around at WeKirk Farms and headed back toward the wife, who was finishing up her walk at the Lake. WeKirk Farms is part of an original land grant from King James that remains in the Kirkpatrick family to this day. This is undeveloped private land that is a part of the 2nd largest land holding family in the mountains.

This image is looking north toward Rush Fork Gap. If you continue north beyond the Gap, you drop down to Ferguson's Store, which is an interesting place to take a break. From there you can decide to turn west and head back toward I-40 or turn east and ride across Betsy's Gap and down through Trust and Luck before getting to Spring Creek in Madison County. The ride over Rush Fork and over Betsy's Gap is not for the faint of heart. Both are serious, long climbs. Descents from both gaps should be taken carefully this time of the year as there is a lot of gravel from winter travel on the roads. Hitting gravel at speed in some of the sharp curves would definitely not lead to a happy ending on a ride.

Chicken soup is said to be good for the soul. My bet is that it doesn't have anything on cycling in the spiritual department. This one day was a fine reminder of the joys of riding and while my back and legs may feel weak at the moment, my spirit is definitely light and airy. It takes only a brief ride outdoors on a great day to remind me of what is just over the horizon as we move toward a new spring and new opportunities to enjoy the world around us.

Until later,

-- Zeke

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